by Isabel Cabañas Rojas
“Latin America is a region of mixture”. Many cultures, religions and races are gathered; all condensed in one major community, unified under one idea: we are mestizos. Every country has their own particular characteristics though, but despite historical or regional small differences, we are all mestizos, latinos, sons of a common history and memory derived from the presence of Spaniards and Native Americans. At least this is what we are told since childhood.
This assumption is probably one of the most powerful discourses still present nowadays, that defines our identities, nationally and as Americanos, even transcending internal boundaries within the region. A very powerful and, yet, dangerous discourse, for it hides a latent reality that has enabled discrimination and the suffering of many, a big ‘minority’, who does not enter in this category, as are the descendants of African slaves.
This has happened in many countries of Latin America; however, the case of Mexico is very emblematic: its historical trajectory of mixture has only accepted the presence of Spaniards and Indigenous populations, and has denied and silenced a whole history of sub-Saharan African migration and its role on the Mexican society. Because of Mestizaje, and its strong presence as a national ideology since the nineteenth century, the presence of Africans started to blur, for economic and social reasons. Until today being ‘black’ escapes the limits of being Mexican, and Mestizaje has come to hidden the phenotypic features that is better to erase, by a process of whitening, in order to belong.
As Sue (2009) explains, Mestizaje has become a national ideology category, dynamic and diverse, which makes really hard the analysis of color in the Mexican society, as almost everybody can be included on it (Sue, 2009, pp. 114-115). Thus, in a practical level, Mestizaje is a denial and elimination of any difference, as “we are all mestizos”.
Veracruz–along with the localities of Guerrero, Oaxaca and Tabasco–is one of the historical settlements of African people in Mexico, since the fifteenth century. Therefore, their descendants today, even though very mixed with the local population of Indigenous and Spaniards, have a skin and background of African features, which they try to hide so as to be part of a society that also has segregated them socially and economically (Velásquez & Iturralde Nieto, 2012, pp. 110-113). In a Survey made by the National Council to Prevent Discrimination (2011) around 15% of the interviewees think that their rights have not been respected because of skin color (National Council to Prevent Discrimination, 2011, p. 41).
This case of Afro-Mexicans in Veracruz, and the outcomes of their skin-colors for their daily life, challenges the notion of mestizaje, which not only has shaped the history and culture of Mexico, but of all the countries of Ibero-America; and sheds new light on other issues, such as Racism and Discrimination. Any discussion on Race and discrimination is, in paper, not pertinent, because Mexico became a race-blind country. How, then, can we address racial minority needs if they theoretically do not exist?
Martínez-Echazabal, L. (1998). Mestizaje and the Discourse of National/Cultural Identity in Latin America, 1845-1959. Latin American Perspectives, 25 (3), 21-42.
National Council to Prevent Discrimination. (2011). National Survey on Discrimination in Mexico, Overall Results [ENADIS, 2010]. Mexico.
Sue, C. (2009). The Dynamics of Color. Mestizaje, Racism, and Blackness in Veracruz, Mexico. In E. Nakano Glenn (Ed.), Shades of Difference. Why Skin Color Matters (pp. 114-128). Stanford University Press.
Velásquez, M. E., & Iturralde Nieto, G. (2012). Afrodescendientes en México. Una historia de silencio y discriminación [Afrodescendants in Mexico. A history of silence and discrimination]. Consejo Nacional para Prevenir la Discriminación.